Independence Day 1945, Mindanao, The Philippines
by Douglas Thornton, B Company, 34th
A pesky machine gun on our left flank had stalled us as we were advancing on a narrow, unpaved, curvy road, somewhere in the area of Tuli, Mindanao.
It was July 3, 1945. Nothing seemed to work and we were not advancing. Since my squad wasn't committed, I spent most of the day sprawled next to a dead water buffalo. Its carcass was made particularly appealing by the hordes of maggots that were feeding on its decaying flesh. It was also my companion that night.
But at dawn of July 4, the machine gun had pulled out and we again began to continue our advance. Another company was on the point. Within a few minutes, we heard firing ahead of us. B Company pulled off the road and my squad sprawled at the bottom a small hill. Charlie Card, my good buddy from Mt. Vernon, Ohio, who always strived to live up to his last name, pulled out a deck of cards.
But our quiet little game of Hearts was soon interrupted by a loud bellow: "Sgt. Thornton, get your squad up here on the double!"
With the usual groans and sick feelings in our bellies, we went.
"Thornton, here's what you've got to do. The Lieutenant got his damn platoon pinned down by the little bastards. Finally had to pull back. Left two men out there. Might be alive; might be dead. You and your squad and some stretcher bearers are going back to the area with The Lieutenant and see what you can find out about these missing men. Get going!"
This Lieutenant turned out to be a recently-arrived officer replacement. We combat veterans exercised the epitome of timidity and caution in advancing to the vicinity of the pin-down, but not this juvenile John Wayne. Apparently, he had received his instructions by watching B grade war movies.
To our astonishment, he actually pulled grenade pins with his teeth! Then, as he dropped these grenades into the unoccupied holes, he violently bellowed: "Take that, you little yellow sonovabitches! That’ll show you you shouldn't fool with my platoon. I hope that blows your ass to Kingdom Come.”
If I hadn't been so scared, I would have died laughing. The Japs had pulled back, but you better believe that every one within a mile knew our position. Any moment I expected mortars to commence falling!
I was at the front of our little column covering this stupid JERK with my Thompson Sub when he screamed, "Grenade!"
One of his nervous tosses missed a hole and the grenade was coming back down the hill right toward us. We all hit the dirt. I hit the ground face away and above the grenade on the side of a hill. It went off, and I felt a heavy, bruising feeling, as a small fragment tore into my left hip!
Glen Gosnell of Shamrock, Texas yelled: "You okay, Thornton?"
Grimacing with pain, I triumphantly held up fingers signifying Purple Heart-five points towards discharge!
Gosnell's reply was sympathetic, tender and caressing: "You Lucky Son-of-a Bitch!"
By mid-September, I was discharged from the hospital and returned to a post-combat B Company, staging to occupy Japan.
Shortly after my return, I was summoned to Battalion Headquarters. To my amazement, a staff officer informed me that I had been recommended for the Silver Star (However, I never received it).
Then, to my further astonishment, he continued, "We are also recommending the Lieutenant for the Medal of Honor for his great bravery on July 4 when you were wounded; we would appreciate your telling us what happened. We feel that the Lieutenant deserves the Medal of Honor, and we know that your testimony will help him to get it."
Too happy that the war was over to make a scene, I replied: "Be glad to do it, sir."
And I did.
I now know the Lieutenant never received the Medal of Honor. But, in retrospect, I have often wondered whether I was recommended for the Silver Star, for which I did nothing to deserve, as an inducement to support the Lieutenant’s recommendation for the Medal of Honor. Of course, I'll never know.
I know one thing. I wasn't much of a soldier, but it was a heck of a note when someone is recommended for the Medal of Honor for putting me out of action! ###
1) Some years ago, Charlie Card was transferred to Houston, TX, and subsequently retired there. We remained friends with the Cards through the decades. After my first wife’s death in 2002, I moved to Houston to be near my daughter. Sadly, Charlie died of cancer as I was packing to make the move.
2) When I returned to B Company after my hospital stay, one of my friends told me that he had heard that Lt. Jones had led another patrol back to where his group had been ambushed. They found the bodies of the two GIs that had been left behind. The Battalion had been removed from the area on July 5; these two poor GI’s had almost made it through the war!
Douglas W. Thornton, Co. B, 34th Infantry Regiment, WWII.
2115 Rosefield Dr.
Houston TX 77080-6438
The Taro Leaf, Vol 64(3) Summer 2010, pg. 18-19.